International icon Bob Marley died of cancer at just 36 years old in 1981.

What You Need To Know

  • Paramount Pictures is developing a biopic about Bob Marley

  • LA Times columnist LZ Granderson wrote about whether the film will show Marley as an artist and activist, or whether it will whitewash his life

  • Marley’s biggest hit was the posthumous album, “Legend,” which remains one of the most successful albums in Billboard chart history

  • Kingsley Ben-Adir will portray Marley in the upcoming project

In his short life, he changed the landscape of music, introducing new audiences to reggae with songs like “Get Up, Stand Up,” “No Woman, No Cry,” and “Three Little Birds.” Now, Paramount Pictures is sharing the story of the legendary singer’s life with a new biopic starring Kingsley Ben-Adir.

Los Angeles Times columnist LZ Granderson wrote about the upcoming film in his latest column, wondering which version of the artist will viewers actually get. In an interview for “LA Times Today,” he spoke with host Lisa McRee about the project.

For many people, Bob Marley is the epitome of reggae music. He now joins the ranks of other music icons who have biopics.

“His life story [is] very much like a life story like Freddie Mercury and Elton John,” said Granderson. “He is equally as fascinating, and a lot of people want to see [his life] on the big screen. Paramount took a year to find what they think is the perfect Bob Marley. I’ve seen Ben, obviously, in ‘One Night in Miami,’ and he is amazing. He’s acted in some other things as well. I have no doubt about his performance as Bob Marley. I have no doubt about the context of the film, in terms of the accuracy of the information, because the family is also involved.”

Granderson wrote about which version of Marley will be portrayed on screen. He explained what he means by that and what the different versions of Marley are.

“The great John Lewis said it was important for us to be good troublemakers. So, this is me making some good trouble because both versions of Bob Marley we love, I love. But people need to recognize that the Bob Marley that became popularized in [the] United States, the one with the popularity of ‘Legend,’ his greatest hits album, wasn’t necessarily a true reflection of who he is or what he was as an artist or as an activist. It’s important to note the distinction because the very forces that Bob Marley used to sing about and fight against as a Rasta in Jamaica and throughout the world, those same forces are the one that crafted this image of Bob Marley through his greatest hits album that may not be as authentic as you think.”

Granderson talked about what the Rastafarian religion and its importance in Marley’s life and career.

“Rastafarianism is a religion, and there’s a lot of things in it that are politically driven. There’s a lot of things in it that are very akin to Christianity. And there are some things in it that are more associated with hippies, as obviously the affinity for marijuana smoking and sitting back. They were first and foremost activists. And that’s an important part of this because they were not necessarily fighting within the political realm, but they were also fighting in a natural way that sort of interpreted the Earth realm as well. In some ways, you can say there the early adapters to fighting for climate change, if you will, because they value and understood the importance of taking care of the planet. That’s also part of the religion.”

Marley’s faith and race also factored into his success in the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s.

“Certainly, if you have a Black man from Jamaica who smokes marijuana and probably talked about smoking marijuana, particularly during the 1970s and '80s, where marijuana was demonized in this country at a very high level leading to mass incarceration, you can see why record companies did not think it was a good idea to try to sell the Rastafarian version of Bob Marley,” said Granderson. “The one who believed in these things passionately, particularly talking about the legacy of slavery as well as colonialism, its impact on not just his community, but the African diaspora in general. I can see why that wouldn’t be a big seller for record companies.”

Marley’s greatest hits album, “Legend,” was a massive success. It was released two years after his death and introduced his music to a whole new audience. Through the release of “Legend,” Marley’s message was diluted to appeal to a wider, more white audience. Granderson argues that the marketing of the album somewhat erases Marley’s work as an activist.

“The [record company] did it on purpose because they wanted to sell to white people. This is literally what the executive who put together ‘Legend’ said. He wanted to market from Bob Marley to white people. You could see the inherent conflict. Bob Marley sold several hundred thousand CDs of ‘Exodus,’ which was his most popular album in the United States. ‘Legend’ is the second longest charting album in the history of Billboard charts. That tells you everything you need to know that the strategies that they employed. While it may have neutered the message and music of Bob Marley, it certainly seals his popularity well.”

Granderson explained that the Wailers, who performed with Marley, have not commented on how they feel about the upcoming biopic.

“It will be interesting to see which voices become more active and louder as we get closer and closer to this project coming to fruition.”

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